A beautiful woman, all mocha skin and glimmering eyeshadow, turned to me in Whole Foods and whispered: “I like your style.”
I was alternately baffled and proud: Take that, lifetime of scrubs! Mama’s still got it. Then I looked down at myself and saw I was wearing jeans with Paw Patrol stickers on them.
She pointed one perfectly manicured finger to her face: we were indoors, yet I saw her French red lipstick. I realized she wasn’t admiring my Target T-shirt. I replied, “Ah, you mean actually following CDC guidelines?” She nodded and laughed, and I waved to her as she sauntered out amidst a pack of mask-wearers.
As public trust in the CDC declines, maybe it’s disingenuous for me to be baffled by other reactions to the CDC’s updated mask recommendations.
Many of those with an initial “believe the science” mantra is now second-guessing data analyzed by the most powerful infectious disease institution on the planet. The CDC has reviewed overwhelming evidence supporting vaccine efficacy and stated it is safe for most fully vaccinated people to drop physical distancing measures, including mask-wearing in many indoor settings. (Some believe this will incentivize vaccination; I’ve already seen it happen with Hispanic men.) This reflects the best news I’ve ever seen: The fully vaccinated are unlikely to either spread or develop serious disease from SARS-COV-2. In fact, the only at-risk populations are those who simultaneously refuse to wear masks, will not be vaccinated, and continue to participate in high-risk activities with other similar people.
I actually know one such person, and their favorite saying since the beginning of the pandemic is: “Live free or die.” They say eschewing face coverings/vaccinations/distancing is a personal right; if the consequence is death, so be it. Although I do not think this is a true analogy (the aforementioned are public actions for an airborne communicable disease — not private decisions independent of others), if anyone maintains this position after the past two years, well, I’d call that informed consent.
But I wonder: How much are our behaviors as physicians contributing to CDC skepticism?
Recently, I read a quote from a physician wherein she stated she disagreed with the CDC’s new guidelines and would continue mask-wearing at all times, as an example to the community.
An example to the community of a doctor not supporting the CDC. Is this public health or virtue-signaling?
One pediatrician I know has been attending large, mask-free gatherings, eating indoors, and traveling — yet she second-guessed the new recommendations, saying “it’s too soon.” She was keeping her mask on because she “care(s) about (her) kids.”
I, too, have feelings about the CDC. (For example: Why can’t we go about town driving hybrid ice-cream-public-health trucks, turning on the hypnotic little bells, offering snow cones and shots alike?) This may be a good time to reflect: Is the CDC perfect? Dr. Walensky noted their increasing needs and decreasing resources over the past decade. Is this rollout going to be seamless? I have no idea — again, I’m a doctor, not a business person (who presumably makes money from solving consumer rollout logistics).
But the CDC are scientists who are not downplaying the severity of this pandemic. Dr. Walensky herself is a mother and continues to recommend that the unvaccinated, including young children, wear masks. There is no suggestion that this is some type of maskless free-for-all or that it will put young children at risk.
There are many who do believe the most powerful woman in science. However, they are afraid of the stigma attached to being maskless. Several people I spoke with said they’d stop masking if only they had shirts saying: “I’m fully vaccinated, not a Republican.”
It’s time for us as a community to continue the effort to de-politicize science and the institutions that analyze it.
Wearing a mask is a public health measure, not a form of dog-whistling. If we truly believe this: We must support the CDC when they say it’s safe to take them off. And if we truly believe this: We won’t complain if it’s ever time to put them back on again.
Isn’t it time we refocus on personal style? Away from whichever Facebook doctor/political group you follow and back to which lipstick shade you wear?
Giannina L. Garces-Ambrossi Muncey is a critical care physician.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com